When a divorced Texas parent wants to relocate with a child

The ultimate question will be what is in the child’s best interest and the inquiry is very factually intensive.

It is not unusual for Americans to relocate for a job, a relationship, a fresh start or the proximity of extended family. When a divorced or single custodial parent wishes to move away with their child, leaving the other parent behind in a potentially far-away community, the reasons for moving are often similar. Sometimes, however, the parent's motivation may be to put distance between the child and the other parent.

The problem, of course, is the objection of the left-behind parent, especially when they spend regular time with the child that would be interrupted by a relocation. Relocation is likely to violate the divorce decree - often the visitation schedule or a geographic residential limitation. Parents have the right to ask for a jury trial on most of the issues likely to come up in a relocation case, otherwise the judge would be the decisionmaker.

The court must determine in a relocation case that would require a modification of the divorce decree whether the proposed move would be a material and substantial change in circumstances. It is of course more likely to be material and substantial the farther away the parent is proposing to move.

Sometimes the remaining parent seeks in response a change in custody to become the custodial parent or a new geographical restriction.

To determine whether the proposal would be a material, substantial change, Texas courts have looked at:

  • Reasons for the proposed move, especially if there is motive to sever the relationship with the other parent or if it is vindictive
  • Basis for opposing the move
  • Distance, impact of move on contact with the other parent, and the feasibility of travel to allow the child to see the left-behind parent
  • Quality of the child-noncustodial parent relationship
  • Feasibility of new visitation arrangement that could help maintain the relationship with that parent

As in other court decisions about children, the most important goal in a relocation case is whether it would be in the child's best interests.

Texas courts will consider any factor that might impact the child's wellbeing. For example, would the move be good for the child because the moving parent would make more money and improve the living standards of the child? What does the child want? Would the move help meet specific needs of the child? Are there any risks to the child of staying or going? Are there extended family at the new location? Would there be an educational or social advantage? How stable would the proposed new home be?

If the court grants relocation, there are likely to be changes in the visitation arrangements and travel expenses may be the responsibility of the parent who moves away.

This is a general introduction to a complex topic. Any Texan who wants to move away with a child or who opposes such a move by the other parent should seek legal guidance from an experienced attorney.

The attorneys at the Law Office of Mark L. Childress, PLLC, represent parents on both sides of the relocation issue in Fort Worth and the surrounding region.